Engineering Driven vs. Community Driven (was Re: Ugliness)

steve steve at
Wed Apr 30 05:07:44 CEST 2008

Its funny Lowell, I wanted to ask you this in private, but what the hack.
While I am working on getting this current product out the door if you

could organize the community effort that would be a great help to me, that
way I don't get distracted from the grunt work of pushing boxes

out the door.


Personally, I've worked in marketing driven companies and engineering driven
companies. There are strengths and weakness in both. 

If the marketing side has no idea about forthcoming technology, if they just
reflect the customer to engineering, then you will

be a follower, not a leader.  If you ask customers what they want, more
often then not they tell you what they have. They don't know what they are

On the other hand if the engineering side has no idea of the customer, then
you can get ( I've got the scars to prove it) a product that has

great technology  that nobody cares about, or products ahead of their time.
So it takes a balance. Typically what I would do is

TWO lists. A technology PUSH list, created by engineering and then a
marketing PULL list created by marketing. That way marketing

gets exposed to technologies they may not know about and engineering gets
exposed to customer needs they may have overlooked.


Then the negotiation starts. This is a discussion about schedule cost and
ROI. So out of your list of Push and pull you might conceptualize

a pure pull product, and you might conceptualize a pure push product, do
schedule costs and ROI. Then look at more balanced concepts

in between.  The way we do it at Openmoko is that Wolfgang represents the
engineering voice, I am the marketing voice. Sean listens to

our inputs and decides. I don't think we have had a disagreement between the
three of us that lasted more than 1 email exchange.  So If you want to

the community voice to me, then I  bring that voice forward into the board
room.  Is that workable?



From: community-bounces at
[mailto:community-bounces at] On Behalf Of Lowell Higley
Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 1:12 PM
To: List for Openmoko community discussion
Subject: Re: Engineering Driven vs. Community Driven (was Re: Ugliness)


Hi Matt..

I think I get a sense of where you are coming from.  As an engineer, one
thinks "oh no, here comes these marketing people with their unrealistic
requirements again."  Been there.  Even been on the giving end. :(  On the
flip side, as a marketer one sometimes thinks, "Man, will these guys ever
get a clue, no one wants that feature set."  In a *perfect* world, engineers
and marketers would be equal partners.. I don't think I've actually seen
this work perfectly yet but I know the relationship I built with the
engineering at Unisys was hard earned and it was built on trust (both ways.)
It was a pretty good relationship and took me a few years to build. You have
to treat the other side as part of the team, not the enemy as we have
instincts to do.  I've done it, I know.

Here's how I see the roles working in an open environment...

The marketing team creates a list of features that the product needs to
have.  There is a lot that goes into this I want to keep it simple for now.
They sit down with the engineering team and create a list of agreed upon
features (even suggested features engineering brings to the table) that go
into the next product, prioritized of course.  That list of features is
created based on priority and feasibility of hitting the target completion
date (agreed upon by everyone.. sort of.)  Engineering then makes the magic
happen... when a feature or requirement turns out it can't be met (through
bug or other technical issue) both teams work out either a revised feature
list or target date.  Depends on how important that feature is.  I've been
in situations where I was told 5 days before the target date "oh by the way,
we dumped that must have feature x."

While the engineering team is building the marketing team is working out the
future of the next product and creating the collateral and campaign for the
product in development.  All publicly of course, with the aid of anyone
(including the techie folks) that wants to help.  I have a lot of ideas.  I
was thinking the bug database would be a good place to keep feature
suggestions/submissions... but I couldn't find a bug database in the wiki.
I must be blind.  From that point, it's a big cycle.  Once you get it
going... it's easy to keep on it.  The hard part is building the
collaborative tools/process to do all this in.

I think as an after thought, maybe we don't want to split into teams, just
create a logical process...  Not sure how that would work, though.  People
have definite skills in one are or the other.  Anyways, that's my hair
brained idea... I guess I should talk this out with Steve before I go too
much further down this road.  Thanks for the feedback.  I think I understand
your perspective now.


PS - regarding Open Marketing, I'm a fan.  I've been attempting to load the
framework on my Motorola E680i but not had too much success.  Damn QVGA.
The people in my LUG know I am very interested in this project so I get
questions once a week via IRC on Openmoko.  Far from an expert but they seem
to like my answer.  I know if I had one to show off at a meeting, it would
be a hit.

On Tue, Apr 29, 2008 at 10:22 AM, Crane, Matthew <mcrane03 at>

I understand what you're saying about engineers tossing a product over the
wall being a throw back.  *Of course* there's back and forth and both
marketing and rnd contributing to each other..  


But I think it is typical for engineers to yearn for a larger role in
marketing decisions and, less so, marketing to overstate their role in
product engineering.   Both groups have strong investments in the product
dev process in different ways.   I think engineering tends to be more of a
group development effort, where marketing relies more on the strength of
individuals, all with very good reasons. 


If the concerns are too overlapped, or if there is no seperation and
specialization, I don't think that works well generally.  

I think there's very high value wrt role seperation and specialization.   I
don't think it was suggested that there was some kind of wall in the middle,
that's ridiculous.  But the best products come from a respect for the others
roles and intense focus on what people are good at.






From: community-bounces at
[mailto:community-bounces at] On Behalf Of Lowell Higley
Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 12:11 PM

To: List for Openmoko community discussion
Subject: Re: Engineering Driven vs. Community Driven (was Re: Ugliness)


Ok.. I'm severely jet lagged but I will try to throw some closure on this
and hope it is coherent.   Steve has been very cordial and enlightening in
his mails to me.  The last I have yet to digest and respond to but overall
it is good, constructive stuff. After reading the diaglogue that has ensued,
I totally understand why he wanted to take the conversation private.  We'll
has some things and go from there.  Sorry for starting a firestorm.

I want to let everyone know I don't intend to be negative and that was why I
sent that last message.  If I see problems, I want to offer solutions.  I
also want to thank Stroller for his phenomenal job for capturing (and
translating) what I was trying to say.

There was one statement made that I want to comment on...

>I mean marketing is really just "how to sell"....<SNIP>

That statement could not be farther from the truth, IMHO.  I think any Tech
CEO worth his salt would tell you the same.   That very statement and belief
is why so many startups in Silicon Valley (and probably worldwide) with very
amazing products have gone bankrupt. I have friends that lived through that
nightmare.  That mindset is the very essence of the problem my original
e-mail was trying to address.  I couldn't have summed it better myself.  It
makes it sound like engineering comes up with a product all on it's own,
throws it over a wall and to Marketing and says "here, sell it". Kind of
like a hot potato. That was the case once... in the 60's, I believe.  

Today, any company that had that mindset would not last long unless they had
very deep pockets. Yes, I have a specific company in mind.  My thought is
let's roll that marketing effort over to this project from a community
perspective.  A lot of Open Source projects already do it.. Open Office is
the first one that comes to mind.  One of the thing I want to do with Steve
is draw some boundaries... What is in Openmoko's court, and what is in the
community's court regarding marketing... etc.

In the meantime, let's roll out the FreeRunner and once it's out, well
attack the next project publicly.  Ok.. I'm going to sleep now. :)  Cheers!


On Mon, Apr 28, 2008 at 6:58 PM, steve <steve at> wrote:

 thanks for explaining that to folks

-----Original Message-----
From: community-bounces at

[mailto:community-bounces at] On Behalf Of Stroller
Sent: Monday, April 28, 2008 2:01 PM
To: List for Openmoko community discussion
Subject: Re: Engineering Driven vs. Community Driven (was Re: Ugliness)

On 28 Apr 2008, at 17:54, hank williams wrote:

> I have to say my unvoiced thoughts were the same as Ryan's. I was
> not at all clear why a call for the community to help figure
> marketing stuff out would be met by a request to take the
> discussion off list as though it was somehow inappropriate for
> public discussion. It seemed like a very strange response. Now
> reading the responses to Ryan's comments seem even more strange. I
> feel like I am missing something because the responses to Ryan's
> comments seem on the surface, inappropriate as well.

If you read further back in this thread you'll see that the subject
changed in reply to my message, "Re: Ugliness"  (26 April 2008
13:58:04 BST).

If you read back you'll see that before that someone was complaining
"the Freerunner will never sell in the mass-market because me & my
friends think it's ugly", and my counterpoint was, "heck, I'm sure
FIC have done some market research (focus groups &c)".

Lowell Higley obviously knows his stuff regarding selling tech
products, and he raises some interesting points. I immediately wanted
to reply to them, but I could have spent hours doing so. Not to argue
with him, just to purse interesting avenues of discussion.

But Lowell's insights are far more in depth than your average Xbox vs
Playstation, who's-winning-the-format-war, fanbois' forum thread. As
Lowell says:

  Marketing is much more than holding focus groups and creating sales
  copy.  There is competitive analysis, business cases, marketing
  requirements, "negotiating" with engineering over the final product,
  schedule.. and the list goes on.  My point is, as I look at things
  and put the picture together, I see no strong marketing presence
  in the FreeRunner.  Where's the MRD?  Where's the focus group?
  Where's the business case?

In case you don't speak the business jargon, "competitive analysis"
means "how much does the competition sell for, how much will it cost
us to make a similar product and how much profit can we make?".

"Business cases" and the results of focus groups, say FIC stating
that "you & your friends may think it's ugly, but we reckon we can
sell XX thousand units and make $yyyyyyy profit" aren't really any of
our business.

In his second message (27 April 2008 18:16:11 BST) Lowell raises the
"goal" of the OpenMoko project, which is ostensibly "the best
possible mobile phone software stack" that can be installed over a
wide range of phones. But underlying that is the fact that the goal
of FIC, in sponsoring OpenMoko, is to sell more phones and (like any
business) make more profit.

For any company this sort of information - the anticipated number of
units sold, market breakdown &c - is a trade secret, and I don't see
why OpenMoko should be any different. In many cases this sort of
information may be available to someone with experience in the
industry (or reasonably estimable by them), but it may not be the
sort of information that any company will publish casually.

Whilst OpenMoko may be interested in public discussion of what we
consumers want (colours, features &c), whilst they may be interested
in open discussion of ideas and whilst they're obviously prepared to
give fuller and more dynamic feedback to us, how much money they're
making on each phone is none of our business. I'm sure that Apple
don't even tell their shareholders how much each iPod costs to build.

When we buy FIC's OpenMoko products we're buying hardware that is
guaranteed open-source, so that we can fix it ourselves. We're buying
FIC's sponsorship of the programmers contributing to the OpenMoko
codebase and we're buying a promise of warranty & support in the
future (we obviously hope that FIC will continue to sponsor updated
firmware for our phones in the future, and we're pretty confident
they're going to do so longer - and provider better feature updates -
than Sony Ericson). Just as, in polite company, one doesn't ask one's
friends or acquaintances how much they earn, it is likewise none of
our business how much FIC makes out of each phone sake, and it seems
to me that that's pretty much what the "secrecy" whiners on this
thread are asking for (although they may not have actually realised

Any company will provide "inside information" to the trade press -
perhaps if you're able to demonstrate such informed questions as
Lowell has then FIC'll invite you, too, to their opening
presentations. You'll maybe have to sign an NDA, but you'll still be
able to make oblique tips to your readers based on your improved
vision of the mobile phone market place. What you have to do first is
demonstrate that you're not a whining fanboi, but that your unique
insight can add value to the discussion of the product.

I found Lowell's remarks interesting because he seems to be looking
at Freerunner's place in the market from the old closed-development
point of view. It seems likely to me that FIC don't need to sell as
many phones as Nokia in order to make a profit, at least not all at
once - the developing state of OpenMoko will ensure a longer
production life-span for the Freerunner than the 6 months or so of
the typical mobile phone in the high street store. As the first
generation of OpenMoko phone, the whole production span of Freerunner
may be a loss-leader to FIC - one might expect the buzz and blogging
generated over the course of two years to increase massively the
demand for OpenMoko's 2010 (say) product.


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